René Descartes was a notable French scientist, mathematician and philosopher of 17th century. Being called the ‘father of modern philosophy’ his reputation as a scientist can’t be undermined, for he was the one who played a significant role in bringing about 17th century Scientific Revolution. Moreover, he was also deemed one of the first few of the modern school of mathematics and the father of analytical geometry.
Born in La Haye en Touraine, France on 31 March 1596, Descartes belonged to a noble Roman Catholic family. His father was a member of the Parlement of Brittany at Rennes, while his mother died early in a childbirth. Hence, he lived with his grandparents. Descartes as a child suffered from bad health, therefore he was enrolled at the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand. There he studied Galileo’s work, mathematics and physics. He graduated in 1614 and afterwards studied for two more years receiving a Licence in Civil Law and Canon and Baccalauréat honoring his father’s wishes to study law.
In 1918, Descartes joined the States Army of Dutch in Breda. There he also studied military engineering and as he felt encouraged he furthered his studies in mathematics. Furthermore, he met Isaac Beeckman, principal of a Dordrecht school, who collaborated with him on several science projects. They both believed that it was necessary to create a way to link mathematics and physics.
There are accounts which state that Descartes had vision. One of them was by Adrien Baillet, according to whom he would shut himself in a room with a heater on the cold night of November for warmth. He revealed that he received three visions. After that incident he was able to devise the method of applying the mathematical techniques to philosophy and formulated analytical geometry. He reached the conclusion that the purpose of these vision was to encourage his pursuit of science which in turn is the quest of true wisdom. Descartes figured that the pursuit of fundamental truth and logic would lead to answering the questions of science. Eventually, he stumbled upon a fundamental truth; cogito ergo sum. Turns out these words became one of the most celebrated phrases in philosophy, translated as “I think therefore I am”. Through that philosophical endeavor he reached the conclusion that the solution to remove uncertainties and ambiguities is to base the theoretical information on indisputable mathematics.
Most of his chief work on mathematics and philosophy was written during his time in the Netherlands. Upon Galileo’s condemnation by the Catholic Church, Descartes relinquished the idea of publishing ‘Treatise on the World’ to which he dedicated four years of his life. However, he published three famous essays titled La Géométrie, Les Météores and La Dioptrique, on geometry, meteor and dioptrics.
After leaving army Descartes returned to France and penned his first essay known as, Rules for the Direction of the Mind. He had a dispute with Beeckman in 1630 as he believed that he plagiarized some of his ideas. When he moved to Amsterdam he had an illicit affair with a servant girl, Helena Jans van der Strom. He had a daughter, Francine, with her in 1935 who died five years later. The death of his daughter hit him hard as it became a turning point in his life. The focus of his work shifted from medicine and scientific discoveries to philosophy, finding the truth of life.